When in Seoul…
Ten years ago, I left New York to see my parents who had returned to the city of their youth, Seoul, Korea, in 1997. I hadn’t seen them in a while so I thought I’d go visit them and stay in Korea for a year. I ended up staying for three. Going to other places, even for a short while, gives you a good vantage point on your life, self-purpose and place in the universe. Life lessons you can’t get at school or staying in one place forever.
I got my best friend to store most of my stuff, packed a suitcase, gathered my old cat, Clay, and got on a plane. I took him with me because at his age and with his constipation he would have been hard to place. But my other cat, Eliot, who was a lot younger and more apt to adapt was taken in by the wonderful Andy Kolovos who treated her like one of his own. Both cats are now in cat heaven, but I like to reminisce about them every now and again.
Yes travel––and especially international travel––is not cheap, but I got a job abroad so I could grease my wheels and explore my new environs with a certain amount of freedom.
That way you get to meet very jovial and kind-hearted sorts who grace a communal table with much good cheer! These friends belonged to a Korean/English conversation club run by my good friend, Rara (who is off studying at university in Edinburgh). These friends were most kind and hospitable to a Kyopo (Korean-American who has lived all her life in the U.S. and is therefore a greenhorn) like myself.
See what I mean?!
I also joined a hiking club with a leader who made sure he took us all over Seoul and beyond with the gumption of having us climb every mountain (Korea’s terrain is 70% mountainous!). From the club and its leader, Changdae Kim, I learned a lot! Two things in particular, like 1) over soju––much like what vodka is to Russia––and dong dong ju (rice wine) after every hike, you must bless your lucky stars you didn’t bust your ass or commiserate together if you did and 2) be welcoming to new members no matter how ridiculously idiotic or stuck up they seem because there’s a chance you’ll be wrong and they’ll be some of the best people you’ll meet…
Like my friend Bianca! (She wasn’t idiotic or stuck up, but was one of the best people I’ve ever met!)
Here she is being fed a tasty morsel by one of the lovely ladies who run the tent snack bars on the streets of Seoul. This one was especially resplendent…I think even Lawrence of Arabia would have approved! Bianca, a lecturer at Hansung University, has managed to keep the faith living, climbing and drinking in Korea while most of us have returned to our respective ho-hum lives…
The next time you’re in the mood for inviting some friends over to partake in some jovial drinkage, invoke the spirit of Seoul, letting it compel you towards camaraderie and good will towards others. Here’s a refreshing soju infusion based on a Martha Stewart schnapps recipe that you can share!:
Lavender and Black Current Soju
750 ml bottle of soju
sprigs of lavender
dried black currents (about 1/4-1/2 cup)
1. Combine all the ingredients in a large glass jar with lid or cover.
2. Refrigerate in the fridge for a week or, if you don’t want a super saturated soju, check on it after three days. The longer it sits, the stronger the flavors. Serve cold alone (or with some tonic or club soda in a large glass with ice!)
Please feel free to use fruits and/or herbs that you like, maybe lemon zest or dill is more your speed. Whatever combos you come up with, enjoy!